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Jo Dale Carothers is a shareholder and chair of Weintraub Tobin’s Intellectual Property group. She is an intellectual property litigator and registered patent attorney, who advises clients on a wide range of issues related to patents, trade secrets, trademarks, and copyrights. Her practice emphasizes intellectual property litigation, licensing, prosecution, contract disputes, and issues related to proceedings before the USPTO.

The answer is “Yes” because the U.S. government has waived sovereign immunity for claims of patent infringement.  This means the U.S. government can be sued for patent infringement in at least some instances.  However, special rules and certain limitations apply as explained in 28 U.S.C. § 1498, which states, in part:

(a) Whenever an invention described in and covered by a patent of the United States is used or manufactured by or for the United States without license of the owner thereof or lawful right to use or manufacture the same, the owner’s remedy shall be by action against the United States in the United States Court of Federal Claims for the recovery of his reasonable and entire compensation for such use and manufacture.

As a result, patent infringement lawsuits against the United States government, are not brought in Federal district courts but rather in the Court of Federal Claims, which is a special court “authorized to hear primarily money claims founded upon the Constitution, federal statutes, executive regulations, or contracts, express or implied in fact, with the United States.”  See https://www.uscfc.uscourts.gov/.  Further, a patent owner cannot sue a federal contractor who made the allegedly infringing product or performed the allegedly infringing method, but instead, must sue the U.S. government.  Note, however, the U.S. government’s contract with the federal contractor may require the contractor to indemnify the government for liability and costs.
Continue Reading Can the U.S. Government Be Liable for Patent Infringement?

One way to challenge the validity of a patent at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) is through a petition for inter partes review (“IPR”).  The USPTO Director has delegated responsibility to the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) to evaluate such petitions to determine whether to institute review of the challenged patent.  The PTAB will only institute review of petitions that show a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits.  However, even if the petition meets that threshold for review, the PTAB may still deny institution.  In fact, the PTAB did just that when denying Cisco Systems Inc.’s (“Cisco”) petitions for IPR challenging the validity of two U.S. Patents owned by Ramot at Tel Aviv University (“Ramot”).  Cisco appealed the denial to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

In June 2019, Ramot sued Cisco in the Eastern District of Texas for allegedly infringing its patents.  The case is set to go to trial in December 2020.  Cisco filed petitions for IPR of the asserted patents in November 2019.
Continue Reading No Right to Appeal Even When IPR Institution Denied on Non-Substantive Grounds

When it comes to football, I am a huge fan and love watching games on TV.  However, I do not typically pay attention to the commercials during games, with one major exception:  the Super Bowl.  Like most everyone, I am always curious to see which company will have the best and the worst Super Bowl commercials.  We always expect Anheuser-Busch (maker of Bud Light) and Molson Coors (maker of Miller Lite and Coors Lite) to bring out big gun ads.  After all, for many football fans, a game day means grabbing a beer (or several), so companies spend a lot of money to convince fans to grab their brands over others.  The competition rose to a new level in Super Bowl LIII when Anheuser-Busch introduced its ad campaign mocking Molson Coors’ use of corn syrup in brewing Miller Lite and Coors Lite.  These ads not only triggered a social media battle but also a battle in the courtroom over whether the Bud Lite ads constituted false or misleading advertising.

During the 2019 Super Bowl, Anheuser-Busch started its “corn syrup” ad campaign with an ad featuring the Bud Light King and his subjects trying to return a barrel of corn syrup, which they had received by mistake, to the Miller Light and Coors Light castles.  The ad effectively told a story that Anheuser-Busch does not use corn syrup to make Bud Light, but Molson Coors uses it to make Miller Lite and Coors Lite.
Continue Reading Football, Beer, and Court Fights

The case of Egenera, Inc. v. Cisco Systems, Inc. raised the question of whether inventors named on a patent can be repeatedly changed as litigation strategy changes. Because of judicial estoppel, the district court said no way.  But, on appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said no problem—at least no problem in this case.

Mr. Shulter was listed as an inventor on Egenera, Inc.’s (“Egenera”) patent application and the resulting patent, U.S. Patent No. 7,231,430 (the “’430 Patent”).  The ‘430 patent relates to “a platform for automatically deploying a scalable and reconfigurable virtual network” of processors.  The claimed approach alleviates the need for physical reconfiguration of processors by allowing “processing resources [to] be deployed rapidly and easily through software.”
Continue Reading No Judicial Estoppel in the Case of the On-Again, Off-Again Patent Inventor

Following the America Invents Act, a petition for inter partes review (“IPR”) has become a common method for challenging the validity of a patent before the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (“PTAB”) at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”).  Such challenges are often brought by petitioners in response to a patent owner suing them for patent infringement.  But what happens to the IPR if the parties settle the infringement lawsuit?

When parties settle the underlying dispute, they can request that the IPR be terminated.  Under 35 U.S.C. § 317(a),

An inter partes review instituted under this chapter shall be terminated with respect to any petitioner upon the joint request of the petitioner and the patent owner, unless the Office has decided the merits of the proceeding before the request for termination is filed.

However, under 35 U.S.C. § 317(b), any settlement agreement, including any collateral agreements that are referenced, must be filed with the USPTO before the termination of the IPR.  Specifically, the statute states:

Any agreement or understanding between the patent owner and a petitioner, including any collateral agreements referred to in such agreement or understanding, made in connection with, or in contemplation of, the termination of an inter partes review under this section shall be in writing and a true copy of such agreement or understanding shall be filed in the Office before the termination of the inter partes review as between the parties. At the request of a party to the proceeding, the agreement or understanding shall be treated as business confidential information, shall be kept separate from the file of the involved patents, and shall be made available only to Federal Government agencies on written request, or to any person on a showing of good cause.
Continue Reading The PTAB Requires Settlement and Collateral Agreements to Terminate IPRs